Backpage.com CEO arrested, accused of several felony pimping charges

Warrants were issued for Michael Lacey, 68, and James Larkin, 67 after Carl Ferrer, the chief executive for Backpage.com, was arrested this week on charges that allege sex-trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through escort ads posted on the website.

Ferrer is scheduled to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. The website has been under pressure for years to stop running ads for sexual services, especially after website Craigslist, the original online classified web page, shut down a similar area in 2010.

Other classified websites have been accused of allowing sex trafficking in the past.

His attorney did not return a call for comment Saturday but previously said Herrer will fight the "trumped up" charges. "They ignore the holdings of numerous federal courts that the First Amendment protects the ads on Backpage.com", McDougall said.

However, the criminal complaint and affidavit, like the Washington lawsuit filed on behalf of three underage girls, contend that Backstage actively coached advertisers in how to write advertisements in ways that would stay within legal limits while still encouraging commercial sex.

The Washington state Supreme Court similarly ruled past year that the company didn't just host the ads, but helped develop the content.

Lacey and Larkin sold the Phoenix New Times in 2012. That percentage dropped to 90 percent in May 2015, likely due to credit card companies that stopped processing payments to the site, California Department of Justice Special Agent Brian Fichtner said in a declaration in support of the arrest warrant. A message to a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general drew no response.

"I am gratified by the news that authorities are moving to hold accountable individuals at Backpage.com for their history of putting profits before protecting victims of human trafficking".

The attorney for Backpage.com is blasting the raid on the online classified ad portal's Dallas headquarters and the arrest of chief executive Carl Ferrer as "an election year stunt" on the part of the California attorney general and "not a good-faith action by law enforcement".

The investigation into Backpage's dealings reportedly took years, and last year, the Cook County Sheriff in IL had cut off the website's credit card payment system. During that period, Backpage's revenue from California totaled more than $51 million, the company's self-reporting shows.

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